I believe in second chances. I think every student deserves a chance to prove themselves and learn from their mistakes. Sometimes the error may not have been intentional but had an impact nonetheless. Kids make poor choices at times; the frontal lobe is not firing, and they act out of impulse. My son and his friends have a saying that if one of them says “hey, watch this” it is probably a bad idea and so they tell each other “don’t do it.” They have learned from their mistakes. We all make mistakes and making mistakes is one of the best ways to learn. Creating an environment for students to learn from their mistakes is vital for their success and growth. When teenagers/ students make a big mistake, we need to guide them through the learning process and not bail them out.
Winston Churchill captured it this way — “One must never forget when misfortunes come that it is quite possible they are saving one from something much worse; or that when you make some great mistake, it may very easily serve you better than the best-advised decision.”
Joe, as we called him, was the step-nephew of a friend of ours. His background story is one of persistence, resilience, and grace. I met Joe the day before my wedding; because his aunt was in the bridal party, Joe came over to help us. From the start, he was a respectful young man, hard working and out to prove himself. I immediately liked Joe; there was something different about him. Joe’s aunt told me his background and that he had got in trouble and was moving from southern California for a new opportunity.
When Joe walked into my room as a sophomore, I was excited to see him. After all, the kid had chased down a wind-blown pop-up that had been protecting our wedding, brought it back, and set it up again. That told me something about his work ethic. I had high expectations of Joe, and I wanted him to contribute to the class and grow from the experience. Joe and I were talking one day, and he began to tell the story of what happened in L.A. He had expressed how grateful he was to be here and to have his grandparents take him in. Being grateful is a powerful ally when overcoming obstacles in life. Being grateful can give us hope, confidence, and a positive outlook. In the end, all of those qualities make us resilient.
As Joe and I developed a relationship based on trust, he confided about what had happened two years earlier. Joe felt targeted by a school official at his old school. He felt the man was out to get him and went out of his way to find something so that Joe would get in trouble. On the day that changed Joe’s life, he made a conscious and dangerous choice and brought a gun to school. He felt threatened by another student. He gave me a list of reasons why he did it and why he should not have done it. How he got the gun, although important, is not the focus of the story. Why he brought it to school is equally a powerful story, however, it is Joe’s story to tell. Ultimately, Joe was suspended, put up for expulsion and sent to community day school.
As Joe told me the story, I could see his disappointment and frustration. Joe took the punishment. His parents choose to move him away from the situation to start anew, not to run away from the issue but to start fresh and without the stigma after he served his time at community day school. I admired his courage and honesty for telling me, and I thanked him for it. He was faced with an ethical dilemma and he paid the price for it. Joe didn’t stop to think through his options. Not everyone faces what he faced that day; however, I would argue kids make impulsive choices all the time. That’s another blog. This story is about second chances and not about impulsive teenagers.
Joe as the new kid was sitting at his desk, trying not to be noticed. In time he began to share more and participate more. I would often ask a question and then ask for volunteers, when no one answered, I would say “thanks Mike for volunteering.” Joe was not immune. I would volunteer him too. He would smile and say a long drawn out “oookay.” More often than not his answer was spot on. His confidence began to grow. He started to ask questions and participate more. You could see the transformation in Joe. Joe deserved a second chance. I watched Joe make friends, play sports, get involved in activities; he gained more confidence as he learned and grew. He was a young man of great wisdom, and it showed. Joe got his second chance. More importantly, he used it and learned from it. When Joe needed help, he came and asked. Joe connected with teachers and coaches. He learned to trust and seek help when he made mistakes. Many adults in his life encouraged him and supported him.
Joe made a dangerous mistake that day, but he did not allow it to define him. His family let him go through the struggle and let him learn from the consequence. There is a balance to find between over punishing and bailing a student out. In this case, Joe had to move away from his friends, and his home and start over. He also had to move past the mistake. Joe accomplished many things throughout high school, and from my perspective he is still doing great today. He was given a second chance. Most importantly he gave himself a second chance. He allowed himself to start over. He played football, joined the mock trial team, worked in a student movement called Power of Unity. He raised his voice about showing respect to others and demonstrating self-respect. The struggle following the poor choice he made that day did not define him, but it did redefine him and the direction he was taking.
I talked to Joe tonight and I shared this story with him. It was important to me to have his blessing and ensure it was accurate. It was good to talk to him. He is a man of faith, a deep thinker, and profoundly humble. He thanked me for sharing this story in hopes it impacts someone in a positive way. It is a blessing to know this man. What struck me the most about our conversation is that he is still learning from this event. He applies what he learned daily.
I will leave you with this —”Take chances, make mistakes. That’s how you grow. Pain nourishes your courage. You have to fail in order to practice being brave”. —Mary Tyler Moore
Let kids struggle, let them make mistakes, let them pay the consequences, don’t rob them of their learning. In no way am I suggesting that bringing a gun to school is a common mistake or an acceptable one. When a student makes a mistake, large or small, let them take the punishment and struggle with it. They will grow from it, learn gratitude, become resilient, and, like Joe, redefine themselves.
With something to think about…
your friend Chris.